Advantageously situated near Dover Downs, Firefly offers a unique festival experience in that people aren’t necessarily plopped in the middle of nowhere for four days. They can come and go, walk up to local restaurants if the cheese sandwiches they packed aren’t enough, pick up last minute items at the supermarket, or replace that folding chair their drunk friend broke. (Fortunately, the adjacent Home Depot was selling patio furniture at half off.) Maybe that’s why this festival has become so successful so quickly: everyone works together.
Having spent the previous night driving across state lines, festival goers paced themselves Thursday by lounging around their campsites and familiarizing themselves with the grounds. Phosphorescent, who were headlining that night, caught up on some R&R at their hotel pool before setting the night ablaze in proper Muchacho fashion. Though several other bands took the stage on the festival’s opening night, it seemed nobody was interested in anything but Phosphorescent. That’s because Matthew Houck has the ability to reach right into your soul. Having just played a benefit show with The National two days prior in Brooklyn, Houck and the band were at the top of their game. Perhaps it had a little something to do with Houck’s daughter and good luck charm, Dove, who was hanging out in the stage’s wing. Afterwards, the band unwound in a game of ultimate Frisbee in the artist compound and celebrated the end of another successful tour before returning home.
Come Friday, spirits were high with the Weeks setting the afternoon vibe just right singing songs about the southland with their long hair and hippie ways. Having performed at Bonnaroo, Mountain Jam and Riverbend prior to Firefly, the Weeks wasted no time in exuding that sense of community that is so engrained with music festivals. “Grab the person next to you and start dancing. Just pick one and dance! That’s all we want,” said frontman Cain Barnes. But there’s one other thing the band doesn’t mind receiving from fans. “We’ve been given a lot of free weed, which is my favorite,” said Cyle. “If anyone reads this: it is my favorite present. Give us the weed.”
Among the six stages, it appeared that the best performances occurred at the Backyard Stage. First up was Portugal. the Man, four musicians making music that will still be relevant ten years from now. It’s always interesting to watch security guards at a show. Most of the time, they mirror those British guards at Buckingham Palace who never bat an eyelash. At PTM’s set, those brawny men in yellow dug the whole damn thing, grooving along and grinning from ear to ear when John Gourley reached all them high notes. Though the Ps that the band sport on their fitted baseball hats are an alternating joke, standing for various words that begin with P, it seemed at Firefly that the P stood for Perfection. After their set, bass man Zach Carothers jumped on stage to play tambourine during Young the Giant’s set before the whole bunch caught the end of the Foo Fighters’ performance. I’d go on to talk about the Foos, but come on. It’s Dave fuckin’ Grohl. What else can be said about that man? When I asked the Weeks who they’d like to have a Superjam with at Firefly if they could, they all agreed on Grohl. “I’m the drummer for the Weeks. If you have the opportunity to have Dave Grohl play on drums, then yes, you have Dave Grohl play on drums.”
But if any day took the cake, it was Saturday. Cage the Elephant, this year’s most anticipated performance at Bonnaroo, had Firefly fans equally eager with a crowd stretching far off into the field. For one, no other performance had as many crowd surfers flying through the air—and so constant, too. For an hour, those security guards were given a run for their money.
As Matt Shultz points out in the interview below, the band’s fan base has gotten significantly younger over the past few years. Seen right in front by the barricade were two teenage brothers rocking out. Best part? So were their parents. Cage The Elephant is a band as humble as they come; two brothers from Bowling Green, Kentucky who dreamed of becoming a great rock ‘n’ roll band. Now that they have, they never lose sight of their roots. So, when they caught eye of those two brothers rocking out in the crowd, they invited them to watch the band side stage.
To pinpoint a highlight in Cage The Elephant’s set is difficult, but having seen them a dozen times, one thing certainly stood out: during the hits “In One Ear” and “Back Against the Wall,” Shultz mischievously grinned at the crowd as if he were about to jump. Though he is known for his ballsy, intrepid stage dives, he changes up the mix in order to keep the show interesting. “I didn’t want [the stage dives] to be some sort of gimmick,” he said. Throwing bursts of confetti and strutting along like a man born to perform, Shultz made the sun jealous and lit up the afternoon. I’d like to see this one on stage with Mick Jagger. Don’t think he’s ready for that sort of caliber? He did just recently perform with Robby Krieger of the Doors.
Fans weren’t the only ones left captivated by Cage The Elephant. Having caught their set, an impressed Imagine Dragons invited Shultz and drummer Jared Champion to perform with them on “Radioactive,” instantly creating a festival highlight. But what really stopped everyone in their tracks was when Imagine Dragons whipped out a cover of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer.”
SLEEPER/AGENT, another noteworthy band from Bowling Green, left quite a ding on fans, too. Looking like Stevie Nicks in flowing gypsy threads, Alex Kandel sang with a confidence and fierceness well beyond her years. Joined by her fiancé Tony Smith, Kandel exudes the sort of chemistry and electricity that gets David Letterman excited. Stay tuned; the band will perform on his show July 9th.
Come Sunday, a bitter sweetness lingered through the air as our four-day pilgrimage came to an end. Fortunately, Jack Johnson raised everyone’s spirits in breezy, island-paced fashion with crowd favorites like “Upside Down,” “Bubble Toes,” and “Mudfootball.” Later on as people began to take down their tents and pack up their cars, a common question remained: “How is it Sunday already? We just got here!” Well, time flies when you’re having…
– Melissa Caruso
Check out our exclusive interview with Cage The Elephant on location at Firefly: